Google's breathtaking prosperity makes it difficult to recall the
search startup of five years ago: a funds-burning outfit with no
business model, swinging one misguided decision away from the dot-com
bubble. Surely, had co-founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin followed
customary wisdom of the time - and the advice of consultants - and
launched a multimillion-dollar advertising campaign in early 2000,
Google could well have run out of funds before it had a chance to mine
The Search: How Google and Its Rivals Rewrote the Rules of Business and
Transformed Our Culture by John Battelle provides a convincing glimpse
of the search industry's early years, covering the terrain and
characters that contributed to Google's almost accidental rise.
Written with the same cool-oozing enthusiasm that was a hallmark of his
two magazines, Battelle wonders at the vast potential of Internet
search. Sick of all the commotion surrounding Google and its
competitors? Just get used to it. For the first time in human history,
we not only have infinite terabytes of information at our fingertips,
but a large sampling of our needs, fears, and desires are also being
channeled in the form of search queries into the same place: the
computerized records of Google and its rivals. The author is awestruck
by this digital artifact, which he calls "the Database of Intentions."
As Internet companies better interprets our intentions and as search
infiltrate everything from our TVs to PCs to cell phones, the power of
the technology becomes fascinating - and a little scary.
A familiarity with technology terminology will help the reader:
Acronyms such as LANs, WANs, and URLs tend to show up unexplained.
However, Battelle's clarification of early search technologies, and of
Google's 1998 leapfrogging of the competition by appraising the very
links that connect the World Wide Web, is surprisingly easy to digest.
Most tantalizing for Google's fans will probably be the handful of
early Google e-mails from 1997-98 dug up by the author.
in their mid-20s at the time and operating out of Larry Page's
university dorm room, the two founders display a stubbornness that
borders on arrogance. In one exchange, Larry Page seems to lecture
Silicon Valley personage Vinod Khosla on market dynamics as the venture
capitalist prods the couple to sell their technology to internet portal
Excite for $750,000. Page and Brins's asking price: $1.6 million.
Such headstrong ways, in hindsight, seem to mark Page and Brin for
success. Even a gleam of self-doubt, after all, could have sabotaged
their seemingly naive decision to give up an early marketing blitz or
their decision not to clutter Google's pages with splashy banner ads.
But stubbornness has also contributed to deep disagreement: The company
rankled Wall Street in 2004 by eschewing a traditional IPO in favor of
an auction of its shares and by pledging to operate in a different way
from other public companies. And Google annoyed publishers this year
with its assertive efforts to digitize and facilitate searches of
millions of books, in spite of yelling of copyright abuse by some.
Readers hoping for an insightful glimpse into present-day search
industry topics, however, will be disappointed. Perhaps the author was
hindered by the fact that Google has now become one of Silicon Valley's
most secretive company. Still, The Search is a beneficial read
for the illumination it offers on just how the Google fad got started
in the first place. The answer is more fascinating than you may